Since it was first released eight years ago, EA Sports' FIFA series has become the most true-to-life PC/console soccer game on the market. Others have tried to emulate, but none have come close to capturing the passion of a top-flight soccer match. As the only soccer game to hold an official FIFA license, it has long been the game of choice for hardcore armchair footy fans with a yen to control real teams.
Released last month, FIFA Soccer 2005 boasts a faultless gameplay experience, is graphically stunning, offers gamers fluid on-field realism and looks and feels better than ever. Ball-by-ball commentary is once again from UK soccer commentator John Motson and ex-Scotland international Ally McCoist. Designers have kept the practical off-the-ball function and free-kick system from last year's game.
Convincing ball physics, which enable gamers to play a more a realistic passing style of soccer and a built-in, first-touch control system -- which means players can now determine reactions to long balls, free kicks, corner kicks and throw-ins before the ball is at their feet -- are two great new additions to this already tried-and-tested package and both work really well.
The game's most engaging feature is the new 15-season career mode that allows players to manage any of the 350-featured teams in both league and cup competitions. It's a lengthy and time consuming process, but this is where most true soccer buffs will no doubt spend most of their time when playing FIFA Soccer 2005.
Players begin with pre-season training sessions and build squad strengths by dabbling in a realistic and up-to-date transfer market before setting out to conquer their respective leagues. Do well and after a few seasons gamers may receive a job offer from teams such as Arsenal, Manchester United or Real Madrid. Do badly, needless to say, and players will find themselves out of a job.
While serious first-person shooter gamers await the sequel to Half Life, which is due out later this month, X-Box owners can draw some comfort from the release of the follow-up to that other massively popular and influential shooter, Halo 2.
Released globally last Tuesday, Microsoft's Halo 2 is a superb sequel with excellent presentation and possibly the most complete on-line multiplayer X-Box component to date. The game's sole failing is the single player campaign mode's sketchy storyline, but this is easily compensated for by the quality and amount of in-game action.
Gamers once again take on the role of Master Chief as he attempts to save the earth from the evil Covenant. There's plenty of new territory to cover as well as many new and diverse mechanical threats to lay waste to, such as the behemoth arachnid-like battle tanks, flying banshees and one-man attack hover-bikes called Ghosts.
Of course, players also get to drive a wide array of futuristic vehicles, as well as destroy them and here too Halo 2 again comes up trumps. If it's blinding first-person shooter action players crave, then the explosive action of Halo 2 is currently the only place to look.
Those unfamiliar with the original Halo will find out quickly that there's something quite gratifying about laying waste to the enemy troops from a heavy machine gun in the turret of a Warthog 4x4 or from the cannon of a Scorpion battle tank.